I was drawn to the homes where multiple siblings squabbled and parents didn’t mind an extra kid propping herself up onto the kitchen counter. These were the places that I ate countless meals, napped on couches and scoured cupboards for Oreos. In exchange for these familial privileges, I gladly dried dishes and ran the vacuum, and for one particular benefactor, helped to watch their live-in, dementia-suffering grandmother.
My friend Mary was the baby, the only girl with three big brothers. The boys were generally excused from Grandma duty, and so when the Mrs. was otherwise occupied, Mary and I did the looking after. We learned the jingles that amused Grandma, helped her to the toilet and the table, soothed her when she begged to know where her parents were and why they had not yet come for her. By the time we’d entered high school, we were astute at anticipating Grandma’s needs and understood that she lived in another world just adjacent to ours.
Though we respected this, and were kind and sweet, the potential benefits became all too clear, and we embarked on some rather base adventures, the worst of which was the day we took Grandma to the beer drive-through.
The two eldest brothers were already away at school, and the youngest left for a college scouting trip with both parents. Mary and I were put in charge, and what else was there to do but throw a party? (Here, I insert a Kids-Don’t-Try-This clause, because a party for us required alcohol.) We had no fake ID with which to buy our booze, no big brother available to beg, and so we turned to Grandma.
Even in the 1980s, liquor store owners knew better than to sell to teenagers, and though beer was available in most groceries, we knew that walking the aisles of our local Kroger would be impossible with Grandma. Then our resourceful minds lit on the idea of the beer warehouse, where there was a drive-up option and burly men took your order and money and loaded your goods right into the trunk. No walking required.
At home, we three sat at the kitchen table, and while Grandma nibbled on a snack, we composed our list. We tried to rehearse with Grandma, but the names Michelob and Schlitz just made her sigh. She was able to neither read the list nor repeat any key phrases. Our only option, short of the sensible notion to abandon the plan altogether, was for one of us to do the talking, with Grandma by our side as aged authority. Mary insisted that she, being more petite and thereby possibly looking far too young, come along only for moral support and that I, by default, be the driver.
Hearts racing and palms sweating, we began the short trip. Across the front bucket seat sat our ragtag team, one nonagenarian squashed between two underage scofflaws. We giggled nervously and had to circle the block three times before finally gathering the courage to pull into the driveway of Beer Express.